Bernhard Schlink Criticism - Essay

Ulf Zimmerman (review date autumn 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Zimmerman, Ulf. Review of Der Vorleser, by Bernhard Schlink. World Literature Today 70, no. 4 (autumn 1996): 951.

[In the following review, Zimmerman praises Schlink's characterization in Der Vorleser, calling the novel “powerful and poignant.”]

Bernhard Schlink has made a reputation for himself as a master of mysteries grounded in the realities of past and present Germany. In Der Vorleser (The Reader) too there is a pivotal element of mystery, but it is subordinated to the profounder dilemmas of living German history.

The story is that of the fifteen-year-old Michael, who, in the late 1950s, is taken in by...

(The entire section is 589 words.)

Carole Angier (review date 25 October 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Angier, Carole. “Finding Room for Understanding.” Spectator 279, no. 8830 (25 October 1997): 54-5.

[In the following review, Angier asserts that The Reader offers an interesting and engaging portrayal of post-World War II “German guilt.”]

At first this seems a simple, intriguing little tale. But be warned. It does to you what history does to its characters: before you know where you are, you are faced with the most extreme, unanswerable questions, which you have to decide.

At 15 the narrator, a boy living in a postwar German town, falls in love with a 36-year-old woman. Their meetings are always the same: they shower, he reads...

(The entire section is 925 words.)

Gabriele Annan (review date 30 October 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Annan, Gabriele. “Thoughts about Hanna.” London Review of Books 19, no. 21 (30 October 1997): 22-3.

[In the following review, Annan compliments the moral ambiguousness of the character of Michael in The Reader, noting the work's “virtuoso passages of evocation.”]

Last year in Bonn in the brand-new Museum of Modern History (Haus der Geschichte) I watched a video about concentration camps. A row of female guards captured by the Allies stood in line, middle-aged and grim. Then a younger one spoke straight to camera. She was blonde and dishevelled; she said her name, her age—24—and that she had been at Belsen two months. She looked terrified. I...

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Bryan Cheyette (review date 28 November 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cheyette, Bryan. “The Past as Palimpsest.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4939 (28 November 1997): 23.

[In the following review, Cheyette offers a generally positive assessment of The Reader, but asserts that the novel's evocation of Jewish victimhood is inadequate.]

At one point in The Reader, the book's narrator, Michael Berg, fears that he has descended into platitude. Berg, at the age of sixteen, has fallen in love with Hanna Schmitz, a woman twenty years his senior. The sentimental version of boyish sexual awakening (sometimes with an older woman) is a staple of Hollywood cinema, though it also informs much serious nineteenth-century...

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Toby Mundy (review date 9 January 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Mundy, Toby. “The Terrible Secret of the Older Woman.” New Statesman 127, no. 4637 (9 January 1998): 44.

[In the following review, Mundy lauds Schlink's depiction of the German consciousness in The Reader, noting that the novel “reminds us of the ghostly immanence of the Nazi past in every aspect of postwar Germany.”]

“If only it were all so simple!”, Solzhenitsyn once wrote. “If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of...

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Eva Hoffman (review date 23 March 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hoffman, Eva. “The Uses of Illiteracy.” New Republic 218, no. 12 (23 March 1998): 33-6.

[In the following review, Hoffman praises Schlink's narrative in The Reader, but cites shortcomings in Schlink's study of Hanna's subjective states and the novel's suggestion that literacy engenders moral cultivation.]

Several years ago I was asked to participate in a public discussion with a German author who had written a memoir about the anguish and the guilt of growing up as a daughter of a minor Nazi functionary. I spent some time wondering whether I could work up the requisite sympathy for her plight; and I came to the conclusion that sympathy was warranted....

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D. J. Enright (review date 26 March 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Enright, D. J. “Modern Love.” New York Review of Books 45, no. 5 (26 March 1998): 4-5.

[In the following review, Enright concludes that The Reader is a deeply troubling book in which the agonizing moral dilemmas of the Holocaust are revisited and left unresolved.]

Rarely can a novel of this modest size have made such demands on its readers. The more slowly and carefully you follow the narrative [in The Reader], the more tortuous, unsettled, and uncertain or ambivalent it grows, and the more difficult to epitomize. Such, we suppose, is to be expected of what is concurrently a small, personal attempt at sustained moral accounting and a large,...

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Millicent Bell (review date 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bell, Millicent. “Fiction Chronicle.” Partisan Review 66, no. 3 (1999): 417-30.

[In the following excerpt, Bell evaluates the strengths and the weaknesses of The Reader.]

There are the novelists who cannot give us enough of life; they cram down our throats more than we can easily swallow, and we nearly choke on a mass of characters and scenes and intertangled plots, and on the macro-history of social movements, politics, war, revolution and economic change, as well as the micro-history of souls. They demand that we take into ourselves a whole potful of reality because this, they urge, is the only way to understand what happens. And there are novelists who...

(The entire section is 1420 words.)

Michelle Haines Thomas (review date May 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Thomas, Michelle Haines. “Love and Indifference.” Quadrant 43, no. 5 (May 1999): 85-6.

[In the following review, Thomas praises Schlink's examination of German history in The Reader.]

Holocaust literature is an overburdened realm. The moral freight that accompanies even the slightest efforts in this genre can sit heavily with reviewers and readers alike and has resulted in the honouring of some rather lightweight novels purely on the basis of their subject matter. I hate to bring it up again but (gulp) The Hand that Signed the Paper is a case in point. Despite the initial fracas, time and a bit of perspective have shown that the book was a largely...

(The entire section is 984 words.)

Jeremiah P. Conway (essay date October 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Conway, Jeremiah P. “Compassion and Moral Condemnation: An Analysis of The Reader.Philosophy and Literature 23, no. 2 (October 1999): 284-301.

[In the following essay, Conway examines the moral dimensions of compassion in The Reader, drawing upon Martha Nussbaum's definition of compassion as a philosophical model.]

Human relationships are shaped decisively by how we respond to each other's suffering. Nearly all religious traditions emphasize that compassion, defined in a preliminary way as the emotional ability to be moved by the suffering of others, marks the spiritual development of both individuals and communities. But precisely because...

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Ian Sansom (essay date fall 1999-winter 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sansom, Ian. “Doubts about The Reader.Salmagundi, nos. 124-125 (fall 1999-winter 2000): 3-16.

[In the following essay, Sansom objects to the overall critical acceptance of The Reader and offers a negative evaluation of the novel, which he finds morally superficial, trite, and mendacious.]

Death by the book is uncommon, but it is not unknown. Printing, for example, was until relatively recently a dangerous trade, and the effects of lead poisoning through the practice known as ‘chewing type’ was said in some cases to have been fatal. Dr Edward Smith, in his report on the Sanitary Conditions of Printers in London for the House of Commons in...

(The entire section is 5136 words.)

Jeffrey Adams (review date winter 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Adams, Jeffrey. Review of Liebesfluchten, by Bernhard Schlink. World Literature Today 75, no. 1 (winter 2001): 147-48.

[In the following review, Adams lauds Schlink's examination of love and passion in Liebesfluchten.]

After establishing himself as a prize-winning author of popular crime novels, Bernhard Schlink published the best-selling novel Der Vorleser, which in the eyes of many elevated him to a higher level of literary achievement. His latest book, [Liebesfluchten,] a collection of stories about love, indicates that Schlink will continue to set higher literary goals for himself, but without giving up the elements that made his...

(The entire section is 906 words.)

Richard Zimler (review date 7 October 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Zimler, Richard. “Sympathy for the Devil.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (7 October 2001): 8.

[In the following review, Zimler offers a favorable assessment of Flights of Love, but deems several of the volume's stories unsuccessful.]

Has a woman who committed an atrocity in the service of the Third Reich any right to expect understanding from an old lover who hears of the crime's circumstances years later? And if we as readers come to see how a tragic flaw in her character led her to choose evil, can we permit ourselves to feel what was previously unthinkable: sympathy?

These and other questions raised by Bernhard Schlink's...

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Ruth Franklin (review date 15 October 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Franklin, Ruth. “Immorality Play.” New Republic (15 October 2001): 54-60.

[In the following review, Franklin offers a negative assessment of The Reader and Flights of Love, arguing that both are disguised “bad books.”]

That bad books are the books most widely read is an entirely mundane phenomenon of contemporary culture. Every week the major book reviews assess a dozen books in a variety of genres, of varying quality but deemed of sufficient significance or originality or beauty to merit a thousand words or so. With only a few exceptions, these books then vanish forever: good books get reviewed, but bad books get bought.


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Louis Begley (review date 17 January 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Begley, Louis. “Lonely in Germany.” New York Review of Books 49, no. 1 (17 January 2002): 16-17.

[In the following review, Begley commends the stories in Flights of Love, which he views as extensions of the thematic concerns in The Reader.]

Flights of Love is the second work of fiction by the German writer Bernhard Schlink to appear in English. Schlink became famous following the publication in 1997, in the United States, of his novel The Reader, published in 1995 in German under the title of Der Vorleser, a German word that denotes one who reads aloud to others. It has no precise equivalent in English. The Reader had the...

(The entire section is 3689 words.)

Martyn Bedford (review date 28 January 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bedford, Martyn. “A Moral Maze.” New Statesman 131, no. 4572 (28 January 2002): 54.

[In the following review, Bedford provides a favorable assessment of Flights of Love, but finds weaknesses in several of the volume's selections.]

When a Gentile decides to have himself circumcised so that he can adopt the religion of his Jewish girlfriend, he explains the dilemma like this: “Either she has to become like me, or I become like her. You really tolerate only your own kind.” This is the premise of “The Circumcision,” the longest, strangest story in this collection [Flights of Love] from the author of the critically acclaimed international...

(The entire section is 619 words.)

Kathleen Bogan (review date 15 February 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Bogan, Kathleen. “Pressures of Peace.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5159 (15 February 2002): 23.

[In the following review, Bogan compliments the sophisticated literary style of Flights of Love, calling the work a “provocative collection of stories on the theme of ethical predicaments.”]

It sometimes happens that writers, like peacemakers, advance the very division they set out to examine and even denounce. For Bernhard Schlink, a professor of public law and legal philosophy, this appears to be increasingly the case. Following the international success of The Reader (1998), a Holocaust coming-of-age novel, Schlink has found himself thrust...

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Benjamin Markovits (review date 21 March 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Markovits, Benjamin. “Are Words Pointless?” London Review of Books 24, no. 6 (21 March 2002): 32-3.

[In the following review, Markovits judges Flights of Love to be an inferior follow-up to The Reader, asserting that the collection lacks adequate feeling and depth to support Schlink's larger thematic concerns.]

The generation battle, in its particular post-Third-Reich incarnation, runs through Bernhard Schlink's work, both his bestselling The Reader and Flights of Love, a collection of short stories loosely arranged around various break-ups and infidelities. Reviewers tend to discuss the books together, partly because Flights...

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Brian Evenson (review date spring 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Evenson, Brian. Review of Flights of Love, by Bernhard Schlink. Review of Contemporary Fiction 22, no. 1 (spring 2002): 142-43.

[In the following review, Evenson compliments the range of stories in Flights of Love.]

The author of the best-selling The Reader returns with [Flights of Love,] a collection of seven stories vaguely linked by notions of connection and love. The stories themselves, though largely traditional in feel and in their approach to character, show Schlink to be a careful and consummate stylist, someone genuinely aware of the possibilities of working within established form. The characters develop and reach epiphanies, and...

(The entire section is 290 words.)